Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Just for You: A 35 Year Anniversary, Plus: The Editing of Mercer Mayer part 1
“Just for You” by Mercer Mayer was first published as a dust jacketed hardcover 35 years ago in 1975 by Golden Press/Western Publishing Company Inc for $3.50 (ISBN 0-307-12542-4, and dedicated to Gordon Bonar). I am going to be 35 this year too. So, in essence, Little Critter was born the same year that I was.
Many of you know the story of “Just for You”, but here is a quick refresher: The story is about a little creature (who has since come to be known as "Little Critter") of around 3 to 7 years old who looks a bit like a porcupine or hedgehog (originally). He is presumed to be a male (later books confirm this), and he has human-like qualities (anthropomorphic). The book is told from his point of view (which kids like). Little Critter tries to help out his mom and be extra good for a day. He does many things, and he says that he is doing them, "Just for you," because he loves his mom and he wants to do things right. He carries groceries, tries to keep the water in the tub, and more, but nothing turns out the way he meant for it to. Accidents and distractions happen… and Little Critter comes up with an excuse for every one of them (not the best thing to teach a child, but the cute-factor over rides this).
If you read this, or most of the other Little Critter books, to an observant child, they will quickly notice that there is a spider and grasshopper in almost every picture, and they won't let you turn the page until they've found them. This little built-in reward system also makes it a great picture book for self-reading (for non-readers and beginning readers too).
Here is something you might not know. The version of Just for You that you can buy in the store today is different then the original version! There are sections of story and at least 4 pages of art that have been cut out of it! Let me tell you the story of how I discovered this:
Collecting Mercer Mayer over the years has involved a lot of Thrift Store searching, Amazon shopping, and Used Book Store shopping, but it mostly involved eBay. But I am getting ahead of myself… It started with a list…
I started making a list and trying to remember the books I read as a child (by myself and with my parents). This list gradually became HUGE, but I noticed certain authors and illustrators appeared a lot on it. Jack Kent, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Marc Simont, Stephen Cosgrove, Dick Gackenbach, and many more, but one name really brought memories flooding back: Mercer Mayer. I loved his drawings and I felt like I could stare at their details for hours. He was my starting point in my search to find the books that I had read as a child to share with my kids. He was my gateway drug…
I soon discovered that paying full price on Amazon (plus shipping) or at Borders or even the prices at the used book stores was a bit of burden. Then I noticed eBay had LOTS (bundles of books in one auction) of Mercer Mayer stuff… they also had a lot of Mercer Mayer stuff too. Do a search on eBay for "Mercer Mayer" and in an average week you will get 600+ hits (if you search within the auctions, you may get a 1000+ hits). Well, I ended up buying a lot of these "lots." I ended up with a few doubles, but the overall price was much cheaper. In one case: 55 books for $20.00 plus $10.00 shipping (less than a $1.00 a book, nice!). Yes, I spent more on most of the lots, but that one was a favorite.
Through this process of buying Lots on eBay, I got a few quirky doubles: alternate covers, very different looking versions, etc but I will cover those in the future (yes, I will). My biggest shock was when I finally got a hardcover, first printing of the first Little Critter book, "Just for You." I wasn't trying to get it. I wasn't trying to be a "must-have-first-printing" kind of person. It just so happened to be in an eBay lot that I had purchased.
Inside covers of three different versions of Just for You:
The first printing of "Just for You" (1975) had a BIG "Cool" factor when I noticed exactly what it was, and I, of course, looked through it. It has a dust jacket and must-see full-color Little Critter collage end sheets…BUT imagine my surprise when I saw other things that I had never seen before. Having this book memorized since I was tiny, I gasped. I almost felt… cheated. The first page of the story threw me off, and didn't seem right. A whole 2 page spread seemed brand new to me… and the ending! THE ENDING! It now seemed to have an extra punch to it that almost brought a tear to my eye.
So, I pulled out my ratty paperback of "Just for You" and compared. My observations were correct!
The first page of the book is brand new art. Plot wise, it isn’t as important, but it does give you a lead-in before the chaos ensues. It is a red herring. It gives the new reader a sense of, “Oh, how nice, the little guy is going to make breakfast for his family,” just like a bunch of other stories. But, as we know, this book is based a little more in reality. I like that a lot.
One of the "new" things that I discovered was, "I wanted to build a beautiful house just for you, but I hurt myself." As far as I can figure out, these are two pages of Mercer Mayer art and story that haven't been in any subsequent versions of this book!
The original ending is a one-two punch. You have to turn the page to figure out what Little Critter is going to do, and succeed at it.
It will make you smile and say “Aww” even more than the current version ever could. Something about the extra pause to turn the page just makes it hit home even more. The current version puts it all on one page which gives it a rushed feel. Yes, it is still the same story-wise, but the aesthetic and feel of it is changed. You get a sense of anticipation that is missing from the current version.
My first thought after all this was: WHY? I can only come up with theories:
1) Money? It costs more money to print more pages. Maybe artists/authors are paid on a per-page rate for reprints, and it saved the company a lot of money to do this?
2) Length? Maybe Golden Press' Pictureback's line can only be a certain amount of pages?
3) Editing? Maybe someone (wrongly, in my humble opinion) felt these pages distracted from the story or were useless or repetitive?
4) An article or study? Maybe an "attention span" article or other educational study came out that said if a book was over a certain amount of pages, a kid would dismiss it or be bored by it?
5) Censorship? You can't show Little Critter getting hurt! Kids will cry and it isn't fun! Ha ha.
6) "…things change." See the next paragraph.
I asked Mercer Mayer via email about this change in the book, and he responded, "With regards to the reprint changes, Little Critter asked me to tell you that things change." I was first kind of miffed by this response, but it has grown on me. Maybe Mercer Mayer wrote angry letters and tried to fight the system back in the 70's to not get his book changed… but he has now had 30+ years to get over it. Acceptance is hard, but necessary in the publishing world. “Things change,” is an attitude we could probably all strive to have. Star Wars Special Edition, “things change." Ha ha.
After discovering the differences, I put the information on Wikipedia, and put some pictures on Amazon…. But now I can only wonder what other books have changed over the years. Does the first edition of “The Cat in the Hat” have 12 extra pages in it (ha ha)? Are there other Mercer Mayer books that have been censored/edited (YES)? I wonder if Mercer Mayer was ever forced to cut pages of art and story from some of his other books before they were printed (probably). Yes, I understand that “things change," but I still want to know an artist’s/author’s full original intent. Now, I find myself wanting to get first printings of children’s books because of this. Too bad I don’t have the budget for it.
After "Just for You," Little Critter was a hit and the books have continued to be reprinted now for over 35 years. New books seem to come out at least once a year or more (lately it has been about 2 -4 a year). Now in his mid-60s, Mercer Mayer uses a computer for most of his art, and, from what I understand, he has sometimes used "ghost-illustrators" for some of his Little Critter works (according to illustrator John Nez who claims to have illustrated a few of Mercer Mayer's books). Don't even get me started on the confusing Erica Farber and J. R. Sansevere stuff. Some of his recent non-Little Critter related stuff is amazing and beautiful (like "Shibumi and the Kitemaker"), but I still find myself attracted to the 1970's stuff. I have read every Little Critter book to my children at least once, but to be honest, except for the first couple of Little Critter books, Mercer Mayer's other works are the ones that I re-read often to my kids (unless I am asked for a specific later Critter book).
It is the opinion of this Blogger that "Just for You" needs to be re-released in its original version. This book, to me, is a like a classic work of art… Like the Mona Lisa. What if, 200 years ago, no one messed with her smile, but someone erased her eyebrows. That would be something we wouldn’t notice, unless we saw the original (she never had eyebrows…as far as I know). Maybe a publisher will release an unexpurgated version as some kind of 35th anniversary limited edition or something. In the meantime, I wrote this blog just for you…
PS: If you are looking for this hardcover version, here is a link to it at Amazon.com (make sure the seller describes it as such too):
JUST FOR YOU by Mercer Mayer 1st Edition hardcover
PPS: While waiting for my once-in-a-while (daily? weekly? monthly? yearly?) article/novella-length blogs, go get your nearly daily kids-book-loving reading at “Vintage Children’s Books My Kid Loves” at http://www.vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com. She is a blogger that I read regularly with great pictures and to-the-point information.